Rosh Shel Yisra`el

23 09 2006

Rashi
If you turn to Bava Batra 29a you can see the point where the commentary of Rashi is finally brought to an end, and the task is turned over to the Rashbam. The Talmud (Yoma 38b) explains Qoheleth 1:5 (“the sun rises and the sun sets…”), in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, to mean that God does not allow a tzaddiq to die until another tzaddiq is there to take his place. Tradition states that Rashi was born in 1039/40 (4800), right after the death of Rabbeinu Gershom. So too, when it was Rashi’s time to die, the Rashbam was there to take his place.

But I think that this section of the gemara is a lot deeper than that. If you look to the right of the notice in the above picture, you’ll note that some printings of the Talmud contain a different text. Their ones say, כאן מת רש”י ז”ל – Here died Rashi, of blessed memory. It’s fascinating to notice the different types of post-mortem interment. Some people have illustrious tombs, others ornate graves – others still, very simple tombstones to note the place where they have finally come to rest. It is almost ironic that the simplest should also be the most majestic: a single notice on a page of gemara.

Perhaps that is why Rashi is so revered. 800 years after he put down his quill, scholars and laymen alike continue to search deep into the heart of his words. Because it is here, in the pages of the Babylonian Talmud, that Rashi finally died. And that is why he is of blessed memory.